Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: July 27, 2023 by Crystal Uys
I previously introduced you to Laura Kicey, a graphic designer, illustrator, photographer and artist living in the Philadelphia suburbs with her partner and their three cats. While not all of Laura’s creative work is about cats, most of it is, “and if it isn’t, it is in the service of cats one way or another,” she says.
Rye and Fig, Laura’s two torties, recently started to venture outside and have turned into quite the adventure cats, which made them purrfect candidates to test Sleepypod’s Martingale Harness and Slim Leash. I had a chance to ask Laura about how she got started with leash training, and about her plans for her adventuresome torties.
Tell us a little bit about each of your cats.
Thank you Ingrid for inviting me and my girls to take part in this product spotlight, we had a lot of fun with it. I have three cats, oldest to youngest they are Olive (calico, about 8), Rye (tortie, about 7), and Fig (tortie, 4 as of April 21). Olive and Rye were adopted at the same time from PAWS (Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society) in August 2014. Fig was a PAWS foster kitten when I met her at Kittydelphia, a fundraising event I created and ran for a couple years, in 2017.
All of them have very big, different personalities and preferences but they all get along quite well on the whole.
Olive is our alien cat – she almost never makes a sound but still manages to be very expressive and communicative – just with her body language, gestures and facial expressions. Her favorite things are napping in sunspots, playing alone with crinkly foil balls, demanding chicken, enjoying silvervine, begging to go into the closet, and belly rubs. She very recently decided she likes going outside to birdwatch, though I don’t take her on “real” walks. She is on medication for seizures and asthma and I don’t want to risk flea medicine interactions so we stick to sitting on the deck and laps.
Rye is very social and affectionate and likes using everyone as her pillow. Her favorite things are food and trying to get in on whatever her sisters are enjoying! She also loves shoulder rides, hugs, snuggling with her sisters, chasing sparkly pompoms, and figuring out what humans find most annoying to help facilitate getting an early meal or treat. Once she understood that Fig was going outside she decided she wanted that more than just about anything else.
Fig is complicated, demanding, talkative, challenging, very active, and maybe the most intelligent cat I have ever met. She has always been very vocal since she was a kitten but she definitely wasn’t just into making noise for noise’s sake – she has big ideas and complex requests. Fig really loves observing things carefully before deciding to make a move. We can play for hours on end with her stalking toys in obstacle courses I make around the house from boxes, towels and, paper. She is in love with fabric and loves making it a part of her day-to-day activities – including incorporating it into her play-hunting and wearing clothing. She also gets bored quite easily so she really needs a lot of enrichment options to keep her going.
When and why did you decide to leash train Rye and Fig?
A little over a year ago I was beginning to recognize how much more time and attention Fig needed to keep her happy and active enough for her energy level. Even though she had never spent more than a single day of her life outside, I felt like going on walks would be great for her. The house we lived in at the time was in a neighborhood with a very busy street right out front, lots of human and canine foot traffic, and there was really nowhere to safely and quietly enjoy the outdoors away from that. I considered a stroller but as we moved into the pandemic, I was not overly keen on being out in my neighborhood at all because there were just too many people around who were not interested in wearing masks.
Back in August 2020 our then-landlord decided to sell the house where we (the three cats, myself and my partner Michael) had lived for 10 years, forcing us to move. It was an extremely stressful transition but ultimately we found a place that was really perfect for us all. Moving gave me the chance to consider the space in terms of integrating human and cat comfort in a new way –– which, during the pandemic, became extremely important for the sanity of us all. And we now had a fairly private back yard with no foot traffic at all – the perfect place to experiment with the outdoors.
I had tried an old harness I had on Fig long before we moved and because she already loved being covered in fabric and dressed in clothes to play, it didn’t both her at all. I would put it on before a play session and she didn’t even seem to notice it unless we stopped playing, even then she wasn’t trying to get out of it. After we moved I got her a new harness and leash and took her out into the yard for brief periods while it was still warm out. She loved it and wanted to spend more and more time outside and was crying to go out every chance she got. Stalking birds, insects, and squirrels, lounging in the sun, smelling all the smells, and running after twigs and sticks I throw for her to chase – she is always busy outside. It is so much fun for me too, running around, playing with her, challenging her – it kept me active and going outdoors when I needed it most.
Rye didn’t start going out until later in March 2021. I hesitated to take her out at all because her microchip came out of her very early on after her adoption, and we never ended up going to get it replaced. Plus, she seemed bent on backing out of a harness, which made me very nervous. She saw Fig and I walking outside one of the windows and it clicked that we were doing something special and she wanted to get in on it! She also started crying at the door until I eventually caved. The non-stop snowstorm on snowstorm action through this winter made it very hard to keep everyone happy, though.
How did you go about training them? What were some of the challenges, and how did you overcome them?
When I started trying to get Rye used to a harness indoors before taking her out, she would walk for a bit and then collapse without warning, or she would try to jump and seemingly forget how her back legs worked. Toys were not enough distraction for her to start moving normally. Her first few times outside in a harness she would do the same thing she was inside – haphazard and unpredictable movement – plus she wanted to eat every plant in sight. I found she was excited to be outside but got overwhelmed and frustrated when she realized she couldn’t move and act as freely as she clearly wanted to. She finds it comforting to be picked up and carried around and also enjoys sitting in a lap outdoors too.
We are still working on how to navigate the outdoors together, Rye and myself. She is a lot harder to anticipate than her sister, but we are making progress with practice. I’m not sure I will ever feel comfortable taking her somewhere other than the back yard but never say never.
Because both of the torties started going outdoors during the pandemic, they have basically no experience dealing with other humans in an outdoor context. When it was colder out, Fig would start violently shivering when she saw any human nearby and would take off running trying to get back inside the house, terrified. I have taken her on a few excursions beyond the back yard to local parks. She doesn’t seem bothered by the presence of dogs but is still very wary of humans, especially fast moving and noisy ones. We have had a few back yard pandemic-time visitors and I always encourage her to interact with them but it has been tough – especially since she picks up on my own anxiety about seeing other people right now, even ones I like!
How often do you take them outside?
Fig wants to go out a LOT, but I try to take her out one to three times a day depending on my work and the weather. On the weekends we sometimes spend hours at a time outside. I’m hoping the summer is mild enough that we can spend a lot of time outside. Rye also wants to go out a lot but her stints are much shorter and I try to keep it to once a day because she doesn’t crave quite as much activity. Olive is still extremely new to the outdoors and I take her out maybe once or twice a week.
What are your plans for future adventures?
I really believe in letting the cats guide me in telling me what they want. I don’t know if Rye or Olive need to have any big adventure beyond sitting in the yard. I don’t think every cat wants or needs to go mountain climbing or canoeing or ice skating or whatever is most instagrammable. After spending a year living like an indoor cat myself, it feels nice to just learn how to just be in nature alongside them and appreciate all the little things that would go unnoticed if I hadn’t forced myself to slow down to their pace. Taking even two of the three outside at the same time requires more than one human cat-pilot and our only test of this scenario left us with two torties who were both unimpressed that they had to share the outdoors with their sister.
My excursions with Fig beyond the yard have been learning experiences for us both. She doesn’t walk the way one would think of walking a dog, so what I look for in a potential site to visit is not quite clear cut. She doesn’t like a lot of open space where she feels exposed, she prefers a narrow path with lots of plants and trees growing up around it. Ideally there would be some fallen trees for her to walk on because they are her favorite kind – she has no interest in vertical trees.
I have a backpack carrier but she refuses to go in it. Even when she is tired of walking, she would rather I carry her over my shoulder. She is very bonded to me and trusts me to understand what she wants and needs, though she can be extremely stubborn when she wants to do a thing and I tell her she can’t. We have a lot of great parks nearby I would like to take her to once I am fully vaccinated – which will hopefully help my anxiety with going places myself, which in turn I hope helps her feel more confident out. While I wish I could do something like take them all camping with me, I think even going with even just Fig would be chaotic and stressful for the human and the cat.
Putting the Sleepypod Martingale Harness and Slim Leash to the tortie test
The harnesses have a really sturdy construction and so far have proven to be inescapable. When there is tension on the leash, it doesn’t pull at the neck, even when they bolt and come to the end of the leash abruptly. For warm weather, the mesh is very breathable and doesn’t weigh them down or hinder mobility. The leash is also very robust but lightweight and narrow with a clip isn’t clinking around as they move.
For more information about Sleepypod, please visit Sleepypod.com.
For more information about Laura’s art, please visit her Etsy Shop or website.You can also find Olive and Rye on Facebook, and follow her cats’ account on Instagram.
About the author
Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.